Freedom sans liberties
Sri Lanka is set to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Independence
tomorrow, there are many areas that Sri Lanka cannot be proud of when
compared with the time the country gained freedom.
Barring the success of the military in prosecuting the war, the economy
is in tatters, the social fabric is in shreds, and more than anything
else, the people have lost their freedom to live, move and associate,
For two consecutive weeks, Moneragala was gripped with fear and panic by
terror of the LTTE.
Yesterday, the LTTE shifted its attention to Dambulla, killing 20
civilians and injuring over 70. The LTTE would try and justify this
brutal attack on civilians by saying that the military has intensified
In the past, the LTTE would hit potential tourist destinations to cause
a stranglehold on the economy, in a tourism-dependent country such as
Sri Lanka. But, the LTTE has learnt the bitter lesson that this
administration would not end its military campaign, not even under
international pressure, and certainly not on account of economic
Military friendly govt.
For the first time in a quarter century of separatist war, the Military
has received an administration that is backing the forces to the hilt,
no matter what.
The Army, Navy and Air Force have not only had their budgets increased
several fold, but have also swelled their numbers to meet the demands of
a nation at the crossroads.
Of course, there is an international fallout that has to be contained,
lest the achievements on the ground are negated in the end.
The LTTE has also changed its strategy. As evident, it is trying to hit
vulnerable districts and villages that are less protected, essentially,
to break the will of the people against this war.
Unlike the cosmopolitan capital, Colombo, its suburbs and in the rest of
the South, the will of the people is to prosecute the war to a finish.
Hence, the way to change the will of the nation is to cause instability
in these districts loosely referred to as outstations.
“Will the nation be able to survive these trying days ahead, to permit
the military achieve its goals”? is the refrain on the lips of many
senior military officers across the board.
In this war of attrition, the LTTE’s conventional capabilities are
gradually being threatened, as the Tigers’ will to fight is eroding with
the gradual decimation of its cadres.
For the first time, the Army, Navy and Air Force are getting their act
together and as military planners hope, they would do so collectively.
Show of force
At Independence Day celebrations at Galle Face tomorrow, the three
forces would take part in the pageant and parade.
The Army would dominate the forces by its sheer numbers. All its
regiments, including the latest, the Mechanised Infantry Regiment (MIR),
would participate in the military parade. It would display its armoured
vehicles, but not the ones to be used in military operations.
It was only on Independence Day last year, that the MIR headed by Col.
Ralph Nugera, was raised after several years of training.
It was only on Monday (January 28), that a ceremony was organised in
Jaffna to establish the MIR, where officers were to be presented with
Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Chief of Defence Staff Air Chief
Marshall Donald Perera, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka took wing
from Katunayake on Monday morning and were scheduled to land at the
Palali Airport at ten minutes to ten.
Jaffna Security Forces Commander Maj. Gen. G.A. Chandrasiri and other
senior officers were at hand to receive the military top brass.
That was not to be. Fifteen minutes before landing time, the LTTE called
the shots, firing 130 mm artillery shells from Foul Point in Pooneryn to
Palali and Myliadi.
The control room immediately informed officials of the Sri Lanka Air
Force (SLAF). Air Chief Air Marshal Roshan Goonatilleke contacted
President Mahinda Rajapaksa and informed him that the top brass of the
military on board the plane were safe and were heading back.
It was only a few months back that the LTTE attacked Palali with log
range artillery, forcing top defence officials to return without
The LTTE would have had a prize catch had they got the two top targets
they failed to get on April 25, 2006 (army chief) and December 1, that
same year (defence secretary).
This was not the first time the LTTE targeted the MIR.
Ten days after the Brigade was raised, the LTTE, on Valentine’s Day,
February 14, 2007, fired artillery shells at such a brigade conference,
killing an officer and injuring a few more including Col. Nugera who was
indisposed for several months.
In fact, intercepted LTTE communications in the past several weeks had
revealed that the Tigers were very much jittery about the role the
mechanised units would play in an escalated war.
The Army was not to be cowed down by the Tiger threat this time.
The ceremony, organised by Col. Nugera, to present the badges to his
officers, was held as scheduled at 10:00 a.m. with Jaffna SF Commander
General Chandrasiri as the chief guest.
Incidentally, General Chandrasiri was made Acting Deputy Chief of Staff
after Major General Nissanka Wijesinghe, the Colonel Commandant of the
Artillery Regiment was promoted Chief of Staff. However, later General
Chandrasiri’s appointment was deferred. These promotions were
necessitated after the Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Lawrence Fernando was
promoted to Commandant, Volunteer Force replacing Maj. Gen. Sharman
Kulatunga who retired from service this week.
This week alone, the Army claimed it destroyed 35 bunkers in
Muhamalai, Nargar Kovil, and Kilali LTTE Forward Defence Lines (FDL).
The 7th Battalion of the Vijeyaba Infantry Regiment (VIR) and the
Artillery Regiment, under Brigadier Mahinda Hathurusinghe, were largely
instrumental in displacing the Tigers from their first FDLs. Seven
soldiers were injured and at least 10 Tigers killed in the
confrontation. A day after the operation, signalling their entry in a
big way, the MIR advanced 250 metres into the FDL and completely
destroyed the Tiger bunkers.
On Friday, several bunkers in Kilali came under attack by the 1st
Battalion of the VIR, 4th Battalion of the Gemunu Watch (GW) and the 1st
Battalion of the Sri Lanka Light Infantry (SLLI) regiments and 10 Tigers
were reportedly killed.
Fate of the LTTE’s northern Military Wing Leader, Theepan, is also not
known, after the Air Force bombed the Tiger Operational Centre at
Wadukodai, about two kilometers south of Muhamalai. The SLAF, which had
been concentrating its bombing missions in the Wanni over several
months, this week struck south of Muhamalai, possibly indicating that it
would play a greater role in the war to secure the north.
The battles in the Wanni continued unabated, as the advancing forces in
Adampan area under Maj. Kamal Pinnawala captured Viettankulam village on
Tuesday (29). The LTTE bunkers at Pallekkuli in Mannar also came under
attack by the 6th Battalion of the GW, killing at least 10 Tigers. In
another confrontation at Wannankulam, seven LTTE cadres were killed.
The last battles to wrest control of the Madhu area is underway with the
57 Brigade advancing from the direction of Vavuniya and the 58 Brigade
advancing from the direction of Mannar. Plans to introduce a military
censorship indicates that the forces are set to intensify their
operations and elevate them from a war of attrition to a conventional
war, sooner than later.
But, the LTTE, so far, has proved it is a formidable conventional force,
by withstanding the military onslaught that has grown in stature and